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A "TEACHABLE MOMENT" ON MEN'S ISSUES



During the course of the past 12 months, several incidents have become the lead stories for American newspapers, television news programs, radio and television talk shows, and blogs and social media networks on the Internet and the catalyst for a fascinating national discussion on “teachable moments”. As the United States Coordinator for 2010 International Men’s Day (www.international-mens-day.com), I assist Regional Coordinators in their efforts to facilitate events and engage organizations and individuals throughout the nation in dialogues about the event which will be observed worldwide on Friday, 19 November 2010 under the theme “Our Children . . . Our Future”. The enthusiasm for and response to International Men’s Day in the United States has been and continues to be overwhelmingly positive. Hawaii, Illinois, California, Virginia, New York, Pennsylvania, and Florida are a sample of the states that have Regional Coordinators for 2010 International Men’s Day. Critics of International Men’s Day have been few and the minor criticisms only help to reinforce the view that this worldwide observance provides a “teachable moment” on Men’s issues. As an example, several critics of International Men’s Day offered the following sentiments:


• “I’m trying to understand why the celebration of International Men’s Day would become necessary in the context of increasing global tensions between men and women, which spills over into violence across the board, and all the more pressing issues of gender equality.”

• “Given the global power of patriarchy, given the need for more productive avenues of collaboration with women, given the economic, and political issues that divide men, is the observance of International Men’s Day a necessity?”

• “Men of different races and cultural backgrounds are presumed to have different relationships to Fatherhood and family. We all know the stereotypes, so we cannot assume that all men experience the same level of alienation from family and are therefore in need of recognition of their contributions.”

• “Which men are we talking about -- rich men or poor men, black, brown, Indian, men in the Global South or white men in advanced capitalist countries? Men of different races and cultural backgrounds are presumed to have different relationships to fatherhood and family. We all know the stereotypes, so we cannot assume that all men experience the same level of alienation from family and are therefore in need of recognition of their contributions. How does this advance the cause of gender equality, when such a development can so easily be interpreted by women as an attempt to liken the challenges facing men with the challenges which faced women on that fateful day of labor struggle of female garment workers in New York in 1857, and the subsequent march in honor of these women in 1908, which gave rise to International Women's Day?”


 
The critics of International Men’s Day present excellent questions and interesting observations. One observation, the need for more productive avenues of collaboration between men and women, has merit. As a woman who has worked on Fatherhood and Men's Issues since 1999; presented an academic paper on the Fatherhood Movement at the 97th National Conference of the Eastern Communications Association in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in April 2006; and interviewed and engaged in dialogues with Men from all Walks of Life throughout our global village, I see International Men's Day – a global grassroots movement -- as a key vehicle to providing avenues of collaboration between Men and Women and moving Men and Women to a place of compassion and understanding. The worldwide observance of International Men’s Day resonates with Women and Men. As an example, in the United States, the Regional Coordinators for New York and Virginia are women. As a further example, the Coordinators for the nations of Hungary and India are also women. I share the view of Dr. Jerome Teelucksingh, the Founder of International Men’s Day and the Chairman of the International Men’s Day Coordination Committee, that a day which celebrates the contributions and selfless sacrifices that Men make to our families, communities, and our society has the potential to bring healing to our communities and to our world. Yes, there are issues that divide Men and Women. There will always be issues and conflicts. But we are all duty bound to overcome and rise above our environment -- an environment, for example, in which issues and conflicts exist. International Men's Day is our opportunity to overcome and rise above our environment and transcend the boundaries, conflicts, and issues that divide us.

While I feel it is counterproductive to engage in a debate concerning what critics of International Men’s Day describe as “the global power of patriarchy”, I will say that, contrary to popular opinion, Men do not necessarily have “the world on a string”. And since we are talking about Men, let’s really talk about Men. Many of the Men that I have interviewed during the past 11 years have told me that they are not getting what they need and want. What do Men need and want? As an example, more health and medical resources and support services and greater access to them! In the United States, women are outliving men by 5 to 7 years. Why? Because of the rising incidences of prostate cancer, heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, and Alzheimer's Disease among men. It is estimated that 1 in every 10 American men will be diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease by his 55th birthday (approximately 5,000,000 Americans have Alzheimer's Disease). Approximately 2 million men have been diagnosed with prostate cancer and 9% of all cancer-related deaths in men is attributed to prostate cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, 1 in 6 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer during his lifetime. Approximately 22.1% of American Men have coronary heart disease, while approximately, 10.9 million American Men or 10.5% of all American men who are over the age of 20 are estimated to have diabetes.

The critical state of affairs for Men’s Health in the United States has moved legislators, health care professionals, Fatherhood Advocates, Fatherhood Practitioners, and concerned individuals to form a coalition and push for legislation which would establish an Office of Men’s Health in the United States Department of Health and Human Service. In 2001, United States Congressman Randy Cunningham of California (R-San Diego) and United States Congressman James McDermott of Washington State (D-Washington) first introduced into Congress the Men’s Health Act (“The Men’s Health Act”) as legislation which would establish an Office of Men’s Health within the United States Department of Health and Human Services and promote men’s health in the United States. In 2007, H.R. 789, the Office of Men’s Health Act Of 2007, was introduced in the 110th Congress. The last known “major action taken” in connection with H.R. 789 has been reported as occurring on 2 February 2007, at which time the legislation was “referred to the House Subcommittee and referred to the Subcommittee on Health” (see Washingtonwatch.com at http://www.washingtonwatch.com/bills/show/110_HR_ 789. html). In 2009, efforts to establish an Office of Men’s Health within the United States Department of Health and Human Services continued. On 27 April 2009, United States Congressmen Baron P. Hill (D-Indiana) and Timothy "Tim" Murphy (R-Pennsylvania) introduced into the 111th Congress of the United States H.R. 2115 Men and Families Health Care Act (“H.R. 2115”). H.R. 2115 which is also co-sponsored by United States Congressman Frank LoBiondo (R-New Jersey) was referred to the House Of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce on 27 April 2009. To date, this Committee has not yet taken further action on H.R. 2115.

The critics of International Men’s Day take the position that racial and cultural backgrounds are presumed to create different Fatherhood and family relationships and that an assumption cannot be made that “all men experience the same level of alienation from family and are therefore in need of recognition”. The discoveries that I have made as a result of my work on Fatherhood and Men’s Issues paint an entirely different picture. Men whom I have interviewed and engaged in discussions about parenting and family relationships throughout the United States and in Canada, Ghana, South Africa, Argentina, Germany, the United Kingdom, The Netherlands, France, Italy, and Greece express the same dreams and hopes for their children – their future – their bridge to the future. They want their children to have a better life when they reach adulthood. They want their children to inherit a better and safer world. These Men place their own dreams on hold so that their children will have the freedom to dream dreams and take advantage of economic and educational opportunities which were not within their reach. Rich men, poor men, working class men, and middle-class men who live and work in our cities, rural districts, farmlands, villages, townships, hamlets, and subdivisions are examining and redefining their parental roles as they experience the same challenges and joys of positively shaping the minds and souls of their children – their future – their bridge to the future. Fatherhood truly transcends the boundaries of geography, language, politics, culture, religion, economics, and ethnicity.

A percentage of the Men from all Walks of Life throughout our global village who have talked to me about Fatherhood and family relationships are Divorced and Non-Custodial Fathers. For these Men who only have an opportunity to spend two weekends out of each month with their children, the alienation – which has been termed parental alienation syndrome – is very real. In their argument, critics of International Men’s Day allude to stereotypes. Are they speaking of the subliminal negative male stereotyping and mixed signals about masculinity and manhood which seeps into some of our television commercials, situation comedies, and dramas? International Men’s Day provides a welcome antidote to the mixed signals about manhood and masculinity, disrespect, and lack of recognition that many Men throughout our global village encounter.

Critics of International Men’s Day want to know “which men” are being talked about. Is International Men’s Day talking about Rich Men? Poor Men? Black Men? Brown Men? Indian Men? Men in the Global South? White Men in advanced capitalist countries? International Men’s Day speaks to all Men – Rich Men, Poor Men, Working Class Men, Homeless Men, Middle-Class Men, Black Men, Brown Men, Indian Men, Asian Men, Aboriginal Men, Men in the Global South, Men in Third World countries, White Men in advanced capitalist countries – and the women who love them.

If we are serious about creating a better and safer world for our children, Men and Women must work together in a collaborative spirit and move with all deliberate speed to get to a place of compassion and understanding. The good news is that International Men’s Day is the vehicle that will get us there.

D.A. Sears

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